Being a freelancer in any field can be an exciting opportunity. The ability to be your own boss often gives you greater flexibility, and you can usually operate from anywhere in the world you wish to be — it’s a great career choice for a healthy work-life balance. That’s not to say, however, it’s without its difficulties.
One of the challenges that most frequently arises is the issue of stability. There can certainly be the necessity to hustle for the next short-term gig, not to mention self-promotion to attract clients. In the beginning especially, it can be a bit of feast or famine. However, an underexplored issue is what happens once you’ve made gains in establishing yourself. Sometimes, when you’ve built a reputation that makes you an attractive prospect for clients, you’ll find you’re involved with many projects which will occasionally overlap. This can very quickly become overwhelming.
The solution to this lies in your approach to organizing your projects. However, not all freelancers are organizational ninjas, so it’s worth examining some of the main areas that you should be focusing on. What strategies and tactics can help you maintain your business, boost your reputation, and — most importantly — stay sane?
Your first step in organizing your freelance projects is prioritizing them. This isn’t just vital for keeping on top of your projects, it helps to inform a positive customer experience (CX) for your clients. When you effectively prioritize projects, you can better guide your customers through their journey, setting expectations for the delivery of work, and your level of service. This helps to provide a sense of the ease and convenience that clients will tend to pass on through word of mouth to other potential sources of projects.
Your prioritization should include the following considerations:
This is usually the most important issue and the simplest way to prioritize. Your clients have clear dates that they need your work by, and you must take this seriously — delays can have a domino effect upon other departments, their projects, and their finances. It doesn’t matter if you have a more prominent client that you want to impress by getting work in early: the soonest deadline is the top priority.
- Time for Completion
It’s also important to consider that some projects are likely to take more time and energy than others. Therefore the complexity of the projects should factor into your prioritization. Part of your ongoing professional development as a freelancer is understanding the nuances of your job that can affect your progress. Consider how long it may take to obtain the information or resources you need to complete, too.
Use organizational tools
As a freelancer, you likely have tools that you use to make the practical elements of performing your tasks easier and more efficient. As you build a larger client base, one of the ways you can stay on top of your projects is to take the same approach to your organization.
Some tools could include:
To stay organized, you must keep a robust but flexible schedule. This doesn’t mean to say that you should micromanage every aspect of your day — overscheduling leaves no room for spontaneity. However, use a calendar application to map out the milestones of your day the night before. These provide a visual overview of your day on your device and can be adjusted to issue alerts to remind you to shift to new tasks. Google Calendar and Microsoft Outlook Calendar can both be integrated with cloud-based tools and other applications you may be using.
One of the most time-consuming aspects of being a freelancer is administration. As such, you must take as much work out of this as possible to maximize efficiency. Utilizing templates for your invoicing not only cuts down on the work you put into billing from scratch but also ensures consistency and clarity for your clients. This in turn helps you to build a reputation for professionalism and removes any confusion when filing paperwork with your accountant. Templates can also be useful tools if you have to produce contracts — the terms of service will largely remain the same, and you need only add clients’ details, and adjust for the specific needs of the project.
Regular communication with your customers helps you to stay on top of a project, particularly when they occur over a long period of time. Needs change, work develops, and the better able you are to periodically discuss the shifts in the job with your clients, the easier it tends to be to make adjustments along the way in a timely and organized fashion.
Indeed, one of the primary ways of continuing to build a loyal customer base is making it easy for your clients to contact you. Ensure that you are not only reachable via your website and email, but that clients have your telephone number, too — place these prominently as part of your email signature. Similarly, invite your clients to provide you with their best contact details, and use this as a jumping point to arrange a schedule for regular project communication. This will keep everyone organized and on the same page, and takes a lot of the guesswork out of how the project and your developing relationship will progress.
It’s also vital to note that being good at communicating means knowing when to say no. You can’t hope to keep your projects organized if you’re taking on more than you can comfortably handle. Saying yes to everything that comes your way can also be a recipe for burnout. Be respectful, indicate your appreciation for their interest, and see if there’s a way you can work together at a later date.
As a freelancer, the quality of your work can attract clients, but to maintain success, you need to be organized. Learn how to effectively prioritize your projects, and adopt tools that can make the organizational process easier. Remember that being able to effectively communicate with your clients can both keep you on top of the changes in long projects, and bolster your customer relationships.
About the Author:
Jori Hamilton is a writer from the Pacific Northwest who has a particular interest in social justice, politics, education, healthcare, technology, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @ HamiltonJori.